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Europe

Seeking a Place at the Table

In his speech before the United Nations, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said Germany was prepared to take on more responsibility including membership in the U.N. Security Council. The EU is considering a similar request.

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U.N. Security Council: Both Germany and the European Union want their own permanent seats

Germany has served as a non-permanent member of the U.N. Security Council since January. Its stint there, as one of 10 temporary members, will last for two years before it is replaced by another country on the most-powerful U.N. decision-making body.

And that's a situation many politicians in Berlin would like to see change. In his address to the General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said Germany was "willing to assume more responsibility" on the international stage, including becoming a permanent member, a promotion that would reflect the amount of financial and military support Germany contributes to the international body as well as its growing political importance in the global village.

Schröder reminded the General Assembly that since Germany entered the U.N. almost exactly 30 years ago, it has remained committed to the principles of the Charter. And since re-uniting in 1990, the Federal Republic has played a more active role in maintaining world peace. "We participate side-by-side with our partners in NATO and the EU and take on military responsibility where there is no other option to secure peace and protect humanity," Schröder told the representatives from 191 nations.

On Tuesday, prior to his speech, Schröder said the Security Council should be expanded to represent all peoples and regions, and that Germany was prepared to play a larger role in the context of such reforms. Germany, the third-largest contributor to the U.N.'s budget, says it should have the right to single-handedly veto U.N. decisions, just like its European partners Britain and France. But, Schröder said, that's not something Germany would insist upon.

The world of 1945

It's certainly not the first call for reforms to the United Nations. The organization was established in 1945, just after the end of World War II, and reflected the political situation of the day. At the time of its founding, the Security Council consisted of the four Allies that won the war -- Britain, France, the Soviet Union and the United States. When China was admitted to the world body in 1971, a place was made for it on the decision-making body. No other permanent members have been added since.

Critics have been complaining for years that the world body of 191 members is hindered by inner strife, powerlessness and obsolete structures. The result has been that the Security Council makes ever more decisions. If the General Assembly were more strongly involved in the process, countries would be more likely to bide by U.N. decisions, some experts contend.

But that is not the route Germany has advocated so far. Neither is it alone. The European Parliament (EP) is considering whether the EU should have a permanent seat on the Security Council. An EU seat could exist alongside Britain and France, countries that are not expected to voluntarily give up their own seats on the Security Council, and would possibly put more pressure on the two countries to toe the European line when voting.

Cashing in

"Since Europe is the largest contributor, since we pay 40 percent of the United Nation's budget, it makes sense to claim the political influence also," German EP parliamentarian Armin Laschet, who drafted the paper examining the topic, told Deutsche Welle.

Gerhard Schröder bei Kofi Annan

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (left) meets with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in New York.

Germany, however, should not join the Security Council, Laschet said. "We don't need a third national European seat." Besides, once Germany calls for a place on the decision-making body, others are sure to follow suit. "Italy will say 'Then we want to be represented there too,'" Laschet said, noting that Italy has a population similar in size to France and Britain and gross domestic product that exceeds that of the United Kingdom. Such a dispute would only take away from the United Nations.

Lashet's paper goes even further though. It calls for the current veto system to be reformed so that two Security Council members must say 'no' to veto U.N. decisions. Such a change too would likely strengthen Europe's position in the body.

Laschet said the changes, which the European Parliament will review over the next few weeks, could be completed within five years. By the time U.N. Secretary-General visits the European Parliament at the end of the year, the EP may already pass the proposal for a joint EU seat on the Security Council.

At least one important player at the United Nations has expressed willingness for change -- though perhaps not on that ambitious a scale. French Präsident Jacques Chirac told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday that the world organization must be developed further and the Security Council, in particular, should be reformed to reflect the situation in the world.

"France is thinking, naturally, of Germany and Japan, but also of some leading countries from Asia, Africa and Latin America," he said.

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